Tag Archives: Slave story

Where Have All the Children Gone? [1985] / Where are the Children? [1996]

Where are the Children cover

Published: as Where Have All the Children Gone? Judy Picture Library #272

Reprinted: as Where are the Children? Mandy Picture Library #243

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In Victorian times, Flossie Ford is a poor slum girl that has made good and now runs her own florist shop in Cheapwell. The gentry are among her clients, including prim Miss Courtney and her bookworm brother Algernon Courtney. Flossie is particularly known for her buttonhole flowers. Still, Flossie has not forgotten her origins or her family, and can revert to Cockney, which she had to take special lessons to overcome.

Street children start disappearing from Cheapwell. Homeless, uncared-for waifs are the targets, but one exception is Flossie’s cousin Frankie Ludd, so it is personal for her and her Aunt Ada. Superintendent Spenser of the police recruits Flossie’s help because she can operate as both a Cockney in the slums and a respectable florist among the smart society; the police suspect someone in the smart society is behind the disappearances.

As the latter Flossie notices something odd when she arranges the flowers for Miss Courtney’s dinner party: one of their guests, Mr Warby-Bellowes is “one of their kings of industry”. Flossie is a bit surprised at this because Warby-Bellowes does not seem to be the sort who would appeal to the Courtneys, but she thinks nothing of it.

As the former, Flossie picks up a clue from the mudlarks that Frankie was buying a pie at Beck’s Wharf before he disappeared. At Beck’s Wharf, Flossie learns an old woman named Ma Jiggs bought the pie for Frankie, and she is now buying another pie for another waif. When Flossie asks Jiggs about Frankie, Jiggs denies all knowledge of him and says she just buys pies for waifs out of charity. However, Flossie senses Jiggs is mealy-mouthed and false, and therefore the sort who could lure children away with seeming kindness. But there is as yet no proof of this, and all Flossie can do is tell Spenser about Jiggs.

Where are the Children 2

Next day Flossie is arranging flowers for a wedding at the home of another client, Mrs Leighton, where she sees Warby-Bellowes again. A maid named Carrie tries to tell Flossie she just found out something about Cheapwell while she was home in Blackscar, a town a long way from Cheapwell. But before Carrie can say more, Mrs Leighton expresses disapproval at her maid wasting time talking to tradespeople. Later, Warby-Bellowes visits the florist shop and also asks Flossie what Carrie was trying to tell her. Flossie finds this suspicious and says they were just talking about the wedding.

At the police station Flossie finds the police are questioning Jiggs, who denies any connection with the missing children and stands up to interrogation. They are forced to release her, but both they and Flossie are suspicious of her. Then Carrie stumbles into the station, all beaten up. Carrie falls into a coma and can’t be questioned, but Flossie reports what passed between them.

A week later, Flossie goes back to Beck’s Wharf in Cockney disguise, where she finds Jiggs is no longer buying pies for the waifs. Jiggs tells Flossie she lost a good job because of her. Flossie retorts what good job that could be. Yes, what could it be – luring children off, maybe? Flossie reports this to Spenser.

At the hospital Carrie regains consciousness but is too scared to tell Flossie and the police anything. The police think the kidnappers may lie low after the scare they had, but they are wrong. The disappearances merely shift to a new section of Cheapwell, Nine Arches, and friends of the disappeared children insist they must have been kidnapped. By now the disappearances are sending waves of fear and paranoia through the street waifs and the slum dwellers of Cheapwell.

Flossie hits on a plan to flush out the kidnappers. She sets herself up as a target at Nine Arches, along with her cousin Alfie and friend Bert, and the police will be shadowing them. The kidnappers take the bait. A man named Wilkes (evidently Ma Jiggs’ replacement) approaches them. Wilkes is dressed more respectably than Ma Jiggs but looks sinister and evil, and is soon tempting them away with promises of food and warm clothing at a shelter full of “sad little souls” like themselves. They allow Wilkes to lure them away and to a closed wagon, where he locks them in and says they are going to be put to work. Flossie peeks out through the cracks in the wagon and is stunned to learn that Wilkes is in the pay of none other than the prim Miss Courtney! Presumably Algernon is involved too.

Where are the Children 4

The wagon takes them to (surprise, surprise!) Blackscar. They are put to work as (presumably unpaid) slave labour in a factory under a cruel overseer. They find Frankie, who has been badly beaten for trying to escape. They can’t escape without Spenser’s help, but he has lost the wagon and the trail. Fortunately the police pick up the wagon again and track it and Wilkes down to Warby-Bellowes. They overhear Wilkes telling Warby-Bellowes that the consignment was delivered safely (Spenser realises what this must mean) and more is promised. Spenser tackles Warby-Bellowes, who denies all knowledge about missing children. Spenser tells Warby-Bellowes he wants to pay a visit to his factories in the morning.

When the overseer is informed of this he hides the children. But Flossie leaves her calling card for the police – a buttonhole flower she put on the overseer. Spenser spots the clue immediately, orders an immediate search of the factory, and finds the kidnapped children.

The racket is exposed and stopped. The horror makes shock waves in the press, with photographs of the three racketeers on the front page. To reduce the chances of a repeat, Aunt Ada offers a home for homeless waifs. Flossie finds her shop is now even more popular and people keep asking her to tell the story over and over.

Thoughts

The racket is not unlike the one in Girl 2’s “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”, in which a racket targets and kidnaps runaways and uses them as slave labour in a dress factory. The ways in which the children are kidnapped in both stories is very similar (lured away by false charity before being thrown into a vehicle and carted off to the slave factory) although one is set in Victorian times and the other in modern times.

Where are the Children 3

Unlike Nightmare Factory, this story is not told from the point of view of the abducted children and their struggle to survive, escape and expose the racket. It is told from the point of view of the people who are trying to find them. This gives the slave story the perspective of a detective story and a mystery that needs to be unravelled and a different take on the group slave story formula, which makes a nice change.

Again unlike Nightmare Factory, the abductees are lucky that the disappearances are noticed as soon as they start and alert people. The racketeers clearly played on the notion that nobody cared about homeless waifs, so nobody would even notice they were gone. If Wilkes has anything to go by, they may even have justified their actions in their own minds with the excuse they were doing the waifs and society a favour by clearing them off the streets and giving them employment. Of course the real reason is greed and making handsome profits by using slave labour instead of paid (if cheap) help. But they made the mistake of taking children who were not homeless waifs, such as Frankie Ludd, which did get noticed and raised the alarm. (This mistake is similar to the one the racketeers in Nightmare Factory eventually make.) The racketeers also made the mistake of assuming nobody would care about the waifs. There were people who did, including Flossie and the police.

Where are the Children 1

Flossie would make the old tried-and-true serial of a poor girl who rises above her poverty to become a great success through her talent for floristry if DCT had gone down that avenue with her. Instead, they give her the perfect vantage point to turn detective on behalf of the police in tracking down the disappeared children. Flossie has the best of both worlds for the job, with her slum origins that enable her to investigate the slums and her floristry reputation and connections to high society that enable her to investigate the gentry. She picks up clues at both ends, without which the police would never have cracked the case. And Flossie did it so well that none of the racketeers realised the florist and the slum girl were one and the same. The flowers do their part as well. Arranging them gives Flossie access to the homes of the gentry to do investigating, and Flossie’s trademark buttonhole flowers enable her to leave a call for help on the cruel overseer without making him suspicious.

Unfortunately the Courtney racketeers put on such convincing shows of respectability that Flossie did not suspect them. Flossie was completely fooled by Miss Courtney’s conduct of being a prim old maid who was so absorbed with her house, while her brother Algernon never seemed to do anything other than read books. Flossie thought Miss Courtney had probably never even heard of homeless waifs, much less know anything about the missing ones. When Flossie finds Miss Courtney out, she learns the hard way that appearances can be so deceiving. Fortunately Warby-Bellowes was not as clever as the Courtneys and made mistakes that made Flossie suspicious.

If Flossie had been a serial, there was scope to use her in more detective stories on behalf of the police, using her slum background to move among the slum areas, her floristry to probe the gentry, and leave flower trails for the police to follow. But she was a picture story library, which have few sequels.

Slaves of the Teasets (1987)

Slaves of the Teasets cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #292 (1987)

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #438 (1997)

Artists: cover – unknown; story – Terry Aspin

Plot
In Victorian times, Peg Ashton’s father has died owing rent, so the landlady throws Peg out. It looks like Peg has nowhere to go but the workhouse. But then she is picked up by Mrs Grimble, a sweet-talking lady who offers her “the daintiest job” in the world, which is making dolls’ teasets from pewter.

However, when they arrive at Mrs Grimble’s teaset factory, Peg begins to get warning signs that the job is not as dainty as Mrs Grimble depicts when she sees the place is infested by rats and hears someone say “old mouldy Grimble has found another fool to slave for her”. (“Old Mouldy” is the girls’ nickname for Mrs Grimble.) Reality becomes even more apparent when Peg sees how pale her fellow workers look, and the meals consist of very substandard and badly prepared food. To add insult to injury, the girls have to pay for the food out of their own wages. If they don’t have the money, they go without.

Slaves of the Teasets 1

Peg soon finds out how unhealthy, gruelling and dangerous the working conditions really are in the “daintiest job in the world”: lack of ventilation; blistering heat for whoever operates the furnace; risk of injury from molten pewter; each girl having to make 2000 pieces in a day; no regulation on the long hours they work (no clocks to tell them when it’s time to stop); improper feeding and endless hunger; substandard bedding; picking pewter scrap out of rubbish tips; and, of course, the constant threat of lead poisoning. When a girl does get lead poisoning, which is called “the sickness”, Mrs Grimble does not bother to get any medical attention for her. Peg’s friend Tansy dies because of such neglect, but Mrs Grimble just blames Tansy for being such a weakling. She shows the same callousness when another girl, Sarah, gets her arm badly injured from the molten pewter, and fines Peg a penny when she steps in to help Sarah. Regardless, both infirm girls have to carry on working. Added to that is May Blossom, a worker who is Mrs Grimble’s toady and likes to bully the other girls. May takes a dislike to Peg, particularly after Peg tries to please Mrs Grimble so as not to lose too many wages for meals. May likes to cause trouble for Peg where possible.

At first Peg plans to seek work elsewhere when she saves some money. Then she decides to expose the working conditions instead. So when the King of Belagora visits Britain, his aide commissions Mrs Grimble to produce a dolls’ teaset for the king’s daughter, Princess Vesna. Peg seizes this opportunity to get a message out. She secretly stamps letters on the teaset cutlery to spell out “Princess help us poor pewter girls!”. Unfortunately, when Mrs Grimble catches Peg smuggling in medicine for Tansy’s lead poisoning, she does not allow Peg to finish the order. This means Peg can’t arrange the cutlery in the correct order for the letters, so the message gets jumbled.

Slaves of the Teasets 3

After Tansy dies, Mrs Grimble advertises for a replacement. An applicant arrives, and Mrs Grimble gives her the same sales pitch about the job that she gave Peg. Peg offers what help she can to the new girl against Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. The girl also asks the others if teaset making is what they really want in life. This prompts several girls to express what they would really like to be, which includes being dairymaids and embroiderers.

Then, when May causes the girl to drop and damage a tool, Mrs Grimble threatens to beat the girl. Peg intervenes and a struggle ensues. Suddenly, the aide from Belagora appears, and tells Mrs Grimble that Peg just stopped her from striking Princess Vesna. Yes, the girl is none other than Princess Vesna! Princess Vesna found the odd letters and unscrambled the message. She came to the factory in order to go undercover and collect evidence on the working conditions. The aide orders the constables to arrest Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. Princess Vesna takes the girls to more wholesome jobs in Belagora where they can fulfil the career choices they expressed earlier. Peg herself becomes Princess Vesna’s lady-in-waiting.

Thoughts

This story brings attention to an aspect of Victorian times that was so pervasive – household products out of dangerous and poisonous substances. Goods containing lead, arsenic and other harmful elements (found in wallpaper, house paint, clothes and children’s toys to name but a few) permeated the Victorian home. Even where the dangers were known, manufacturers seemed to give little thought for the wellbeing of the higher-class people buying the products. So what thought could there have been for the lower-class people who made them?

Perhaps the danger of the poison itself is the reason the teaset slavery is less sadistic and over the top than in other “slave stories” (stories where a girl or girls are slaves of a racket, prison or unpleasant business/institution). Sure, the working conditions are dangerous, gruelling, unhealthy and cruel. Yet we don’t see outright torture being inflicted on the girls or tortures being piled on one after the other on the protagonist, as has often been the case in so many other “slave stories”. Nor do they appear to be actual prisoners who are constantly finding a way to escape the factory, as they often are in similar stories. Mrs Grimble seems to beat her slaves far less often than a lot of her counterparts in other stories, though she is capable of it when she gets angry enough. We never find out what the penalty is for not meeting the quota of 2000 pieces a day either, so it is a bit hard to gauge just how far the cruelty goes there.

Slaves of the Teasets 2

The relationship between Peg and Mrs Grimble never has the acrimony that most protagonists have towards the main slaver in “slave stories”. Usually the main villain develops a particular hatred towards the protagonist because she is a rebel who refuses to break and is determined to bring the slaver down. This is what drives the story until the protagonist finds a way to escape the slavery and raise help. However, although Peg does rebel (mainly in getting medicine for the sick and injured girls while Mrs Grimble does not even bother) and plots to get a message of help out, the story does not go in the usual direction of the protagonist being a constant thorn in the slaver’s side. Nor does Peg ever really incur any vicious, sadistic vengeance from Mrs Grimble for constant rebellion as a lot of protagonists in “slave stories” do. This makes a nice change from the usual slave story formula. The focus of the story is more on making a statement about appalling and often dangerous working conditions of Victorian times.

The animosity Peg encounters in the story comes more from May Blossom the toady than Mrs Grimble the slaver, which is unusual for this type of story. Just what May gets out of being the favourite is unclear as we never see her get any special privileges from Mrs Grimble. The only thing May ever really seems to get out of it is bullying the other girls – which is what puts her in prison alongside Mrs Grimble when the tables turn.

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Mrs Grimble is one of the more intriguing and curious slaver in girls’ comics. There can be no doubt she has a heart of stone and cares little for the wellbeing of her workers. Yet she can be quite the charmer and sweet talker, and really knows how to sell the job to an unwary new girl before the girl discovers the reality. Even while the girls are working, Mrs Grimble speaks to them in an almost caring, motherly way instead of being cold and harsh. For example, when Peg goes out her way to be a model worker, Mrs Grimble praises her. Mrs Grimble’s appearance also lends itself to her mother figure; when we first see her she looks every inch a sweet, kind, motherly lady. When she gets riled, it looks almost out of character for her. However, we know that Mrs Grimble is just showing what she is really like underneath a mealy-mouthed façade of motherliness and kindness that makes your skin crawl.

The resolution is an impressive one. The prospective helper not only steps in for the rescue, but actually goes undercover to do it, and subjects herself to the same conditions and unpleasant people who run the teaset factory in order to gather enough evidence. Moreover, she is a princess who not only poses as a working class girl but also subjects herself to squalid and dangerous conditions of working and living in the pewter factory and virtually starving on substandard food. That must have been a particularly dreadful shock for a princess who had only known the lap of royal luxury, but she didn’t flinch from it.

The plotting is tight and well paced. It avoids several of the clichés that the slave story formula often follows, which is refreshing. It seems to prefer to let the working conditions and callousness of Mrs Grimble speak for themselves, and have the added threat of constantly working with a dangerous and poisonous substance take the place of over-the-top tortures that so many “slave stories” go in for. It’s also more realistic for the Victorian setting, as back then working with poisonous substances was all too common.

Lydia and the Little People

Plot:

When Lydia Logan finds the Land of the Little People, they do not allow her to go home. They make her their prisoner and slave for them, and she is constantly trying to find ways to escape.

Lydia

Notes:

Appeared:

  • Lydia and the Little People –  Bunty:  no publication dates available
  • Bunty Summer Special 1972
  • Annual appearances: known, but no dates currently available

The Maze

Plot

On a school trip to a ruined Victorian mansion, Susie Waters wanders into a maze. When she comes out, she finds herself in Victorian times, when the mansion was a school run by the cruel Miss Grimstaff. Susie needs the key to the maze to get back, but Miss Grimstaff has it. So Susie is forced to stay at the school, where she starts as one of the abused pupils and is then promoted to substitute teacher (but is still ill-treated) until she can get the key. In the meantime, Susie does what she can to help the abused pupils.

Maze

Notes

Appeared

  • The Maze –  Bunty:  circa #1992 (16 March 1996) – (?)

Children of the Night

Plot

The evil Aunt Mabel runs an orphanage for homeless children where she shuts out sunlight on them, making them blind by day but able to navigate in the dark. This is so she can send them out to steal at night. When justice catches up with Aunt Mabel, the children are taken in by the generous and wealthy Mrs Rigby, who is given one month to reform them.

children of night

Notes

  • Artist: John Woods

Appeared

  • Children of the Night –  Bunty: (?) – #1200 (10 January 1981)

Little Miss Busyfingers

Plot

It is the end of World War II. All the other evacuees have left the Larches, home to Misses Daphne and Edith Burntree. Vi (Violet) Lambeth has stayed on because the housekeeper, Mrs Porter, is kind to her. But then the Misses Burntree sack Mrs Porter and start using Vi as an unpaid servant. They also get rid of the piano Mrs Porter left Vi as a gift, so Vi has to find other ways of playing the piano. And Vi has to contend with bullies at school as well.

busyfingers

Notes

  • Text Story
  • Spot Art: Tom Hurst

Appeared

  • Little Miss Busyfingers –  Mandy: (?) – #1238 (6 October 1990)

 

The Singer from the Hills

Plot

Anna Meredith is a talented singer from a hill farm in Wales. She is under contract to Sam Harding and his wife Moira, who are greedy, dishonest and out to exploit Anna’s talent for maximum profit. As a result, Anna is overworked but is having trouble finding the courage to stand up to them or put plans to get out of her contract into operation.

Singer

Notes

  • Artist: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • The Singer from the Hills –  Mandy: circa #1217 (12 May 1990) – (?)

 

Blind Belinda

Plot

Belinda Stewart is blind, but also a talented singer. Her managers are Gloria and Keith Foxton, who promise her she will make enough money to receive a cure from a  famous American doctor. But in fact the Foxtons are out to pocket any money Belinda makes for themselves.

Belinda

Notes

  • Writer: Benita Brown
  • Artist: Andrew Wilson
  • Issue #438 had a 6-page double episode, which is split  in the reprint between issues #1131 and 1#132

Appeared

  • Blind Belinda – Mandy: #428 (29 March 1975) – #444 (19 July 1975)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #1121 (Jul. 9 1988) – #1138 (05 November 1988)

 

Meg Among the Slaves

Plot:

In Victorian times, Meg Jackson applies for a sewing job at Hamble’s, the poshest store in London. She ends up at Hamble’s seamstress school, but discovers that Mr Jones the manager and his sister are cruel employers who make their apprentices work in appalling conditions. Then Meg begins to suspect Mr Jones of stealing from the store.

Meg

Notes:

Appeared:

  • Meg Among the Slaves – Mandy: #195 (10 October 1970) – (?)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #586 (08 April 1978) – #598 (01 July 1978)
  • Reprinted – Mandy:  #958 (25 May 1985) – #971 (24 August 1985)